Are We Downhearted?

By Stephanie Olsen

What shall we do when the summer’s
gone,
And the dreary autumn days come
on?
I shall think of the spring that comes
again,
And the violet blooming in the lane […]
What shall you do when the forest day
Is mute, and the birds have all flown
away?
I shall take to my heart their music
And wait for the song another year.

This poem called “Hope” appeared in Uncle Remus’ “For the Children” section of the Adelaide Daily Herald in 1916 (Sat. 17 June). The choice of this poem by a young reader called Edith Lett was no accident. It was part of a pervasive effort to instill hope in the present war and in the future, to hope for spring and song in the heart. “Are we Downhearted?” was a common war slogan in songs, newspaper articles, personal correspondence and the postcard pictured on the front page of this site. The answer was obviously “no!” This postcard is particularly evocative as it ties children directly to the cause of keeping heartened in the First World War and ties militarism to childlike jubilation. Miniature Russian, Belgian, French and British soldiers joyously link arms with the token girl in the picture. Despite enormous pressure, not least by many war poets, to question the war, there was enormous countervailing pressure to stay hopeful, even as the war dragged on. The commonly repeated idea that the war would be over by Christmas 1914 has been shown to be exaggerated, yet prominent leaders in the war effort – writers, public figures and private citizens – all projected the end of the war at various moments (Hallifax). Stories, songs, plays, classroom material and newspaper articles in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain all encouraged children to feel hopeful about the duration and outcome of the war, and look toward a peaceful future. Unlike the more complex messages for adults, children were instructed to hope, in large part because they were thought to embody hope for the future.